How to Know if a Vendor, Partner, or Other Service Provider Really Cares About Your Small Business

You don’t want to be let down or left hanging by someone that you expected to bolster your success.

A woman reviews what a man is writing down on paper.
by Amanda Honig
May 02, 2022

Trust has always been important in business. Fundamental, even. Yet, it seems to be lacking more than ever and increasingly fragile:

  • Customers wonder if they can trust businesses to deliver as promised.
  • Businesses aren’t sure if they trust customers to stay loyal.
  • Companies question if they can trust vendors, partners, and others in their business networks to properly represent and uphold agreements as supply chain constraints stretch on.

The longer economic and supply chain issues linger, the more likely it is for trust to waiver, especially within the small business community. But it doesn’t have to. Instead of worrying over uncertainties or wasting energy with “what if,” I encourage you to confirm others’ intentions – especially among those with whom you do business.

How?

1. By observing them. They say actions speak louder than words. As a quieter person myself, I know that to be true. I may not be the most vocal person in a meeting, but I prove I’m engaged and committed to my company and customers by doing what I say I’m going to do. People trust me because I follow through. That’s an important quality to look for in your business relationships as well. Do your suppliers, partners, or solution providers make good on their promises? Or do you find there’s a disconnect between what they say they can do for you and what comes to fruition?

2. By redefining your relationship and seeing how they respond. I’m not talking about formally reclassifying a vendor to a partner in your business system, for example. Rather, consider what you want from the other party, communicate those new expectations, then see if they agree and (most importantly) follow through. If your relationship with a vendor or supplier is purely transactional today, perhaps you want them to become more of a consultant or collaborator – someone who will help you work through issues long after the sale is complete. (Or perhaps before you even commit to a follow-on order.) If they step up to help, especially with no guarantee of profit, then that speaks volumes about how invested they really are in your success. They could easily move onto another customer, one that may not need so much support. But they are choosing to spend their time helping you.

3.  By asking about what doesn’t feel “right” – before passing judgement. If your supplier says they are just as committed to serving small businesses like yours as they are to supporting larger customers, yet your small business hasn’t received an on-time, in full (OTIF) order in months – while their larger customers’ shelves seemed fully stocked – then I’m sure you’re left to wonder what’s going on. Likewise, if you believe you are being deprioritized for service and support, being offered a different level of service or support, or otherwise just not “feeling the love” you may be inclined to question their intentions or simply conclude that they are more worried about customers that bring in more money.  But before you take action to hold them accountable, tell others about your “bad” experience, or decide to abandon the relationship altogether, ask them point blank what’s going on. Call your contact at the company and have an honest conversation. Though you may be upset with a business, remember that business is run by real people, just like you and me. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Things are not always as they appear.

Once you get to the bottom of things, you may realize that their larger customers are sourcing goods from multiple places (thus the stocked shelves) or that the service and support queue has been backed up for all customers due to high demand or staffing shortages. You may even learn that they do in fact offer different levels of service and support for their smaller customers, but that all of it is white glove. They just have teams better versed in small business matters supporting those customers or programs designed specifically to meet the needs of different sized companies. On the flipside, you may learn that they are having to make some tough calls temporarily. That – to keep their doors open – they need to generate as much “guaranteed” revenue as possible, which means entering into contracts that give other companies priority fulfillment positioning. Either way, when you hang up, you’ll know the full story. Then you can make a call about what’s right for your business – stick with the relationships or start to build new ones while you decide whether to repair or end this one.

Whatever you do, don’t make assumptions about your value to your business partners, suppliers, or other collaborators. I would bet your business is more important to them than you realize, even if it only accounts for a fraction of their revenue. And if you learn an unfortunate truth – that they really only care about their larger accounts or that they’re “breaking up” with smaller customers – then it’s probably for the best that you move on. Find a business partner, vendor/supplier, solution provider or ally that undoubtedly gets you, understands your needs, and will do everything they can to support you. Companies like that do exist, including larger companies like Zebra.

We’re Committed to Earning Small Businesses’ Trust

No company is too small for Zebra to work with, even as we grow. In fact, most of the 10,000+ partners in our global channel ecosystem are small businesses, and we’re supporting more small business customers around the world every day as a solution provider, investor, and trusted advisor. Small businesses are the backbone of our economy and our society. Without them, we wouldn’t be so well off – as a business or as human beings. I know that may sound cliché, but it’s true. Don’t forget that the world’s biggest brands – and Zebra’s biggest customers – were startups at some point in time. Even Zebra was a small business for many years.

We know that the only way to get anywhere in life is with integrity and community. Others have helped us grow by advising us on how do things better and work through challenges. We’re simply just paying it forward by ensuring that small and medium-sized businesses (SMB) – whether partners, customers, or Zebra Venture companies – have what they need to achieve their short-term objectives and long-term ambitions. That may be technology, a service, a collaborative partnership, or simply “another opinion.” No matter what they need or when they need it, we’re here. But we know that, on the surface, these are just words. That’s why we’re taking action every day to show that we mean it when we say that “we treat all our partners and customers with equal care.”

We have solutions engineers, sales professionals, and other consultants on standby around the world, ready to answer any questions you may have and provide any support you may need. They will advocate for what’s right for you and work with you one-on-one to find solutions when uncontrollable issues arise, even if it’s been months since the sales was completed and the solution was deployed. We are constantly soliciting feedback from our customers and partners about our “follow through” and making improvements and investments in our own operations to better support small and growing businesses.

For example, we recently introduced an SMB Specialization Program that gives our PartnerConnect resellers in North America the tools they need to help SMBs successfully incorporate new technologies into their operations so they can better serve customers and gain a competitive edge. We are also giving resellers in this program – most of which are SMBs themselves – exclusive access to business-building benefits such as pre-qualified leads, market development funds, go-to-market support, and growth incentives.  

The Takeaway: Look for White Glove Service, Not Lip Service

If you want to measure a company's commitment to your small business, consider:

  • whether they stop to listen to you – or if they just do all the talking.
  • their accessibility and responsiveness.
  • how much attention they give you in the context of your needs, not compared to someone else.
  • how they tailor service and support to you, as a unique business.
  • how much effort they’ve put forth to prove they want to work together with you to find solutions/alternatives.
  • if you view them as a part of your team – or would value them in that role – or if they will only ever be capable of serving as a transactional vendor.
  • whether you’ve given them a fair chance to prove their commitment.

I throw that last bullet in there as a reminder that, just like any relationship, business relationships are a little bit of give and take.

I know that if you’re the “paying customer” that you should get what you want/need when you want/need it. Likewise, if you’ve partnered with a company in anticipation of certain benefits, then you want a return on your investment – whether the currency was time, money or your advocacy.  However, our entire society – your business and ours – is reliant on a supply chain held together by hard-working people. Even service providers rely on someone else to help them succeed. They need gas to get to your location, or a shipper to send back the product or part for service. If a replacement is needed, they may not be able to get it back to you if the manufacturer can’t get it to them first.

In other words, my experience has been that “bad experiences” are often not the result of malicious intent by the other party. No one wants to fail you. That means they’re failing themselves. (Which they don’t want either.) They may just not have figured out yet how they can best support you. Or perhaps they have found themselves between a rock and a hard place and are doing the best they can to find a way to keep customers like you happy. In fact, they may be going to great lengths behind the scenes to fight for what you need because you are their (equal) priority.

So, if you want to know who you can trust, find out who appreciates your situation and will work with you to get out of it. Trust those who have been in your shoes and will put themselves back in them as often as needed to experience what you’re experiencing. Most importantly, build relationships with people – especially in business. If you are struggling to connect with one person, but you believe the company might be the right supplier or partner, then don’t be afraid to reach out to someone else. Before you know it, you’ll have the right people on your speed dial roster – those who will pick up – and show up – for you every time.

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Amanda Honig
Amanda Honig is currently a Regional Portfolio Manager for Zebra in North America. In this role, she leads the strategy and roadmap for enterprise mobile computing by identifying investment priorities and ensuring product and solution requirements by use case, all while representing the voice of the customer across the region and providing strategic sales support. Leveraging her genuine passion for helping customers get the most out of our products, Amanda also serves as a small and medium-sized business (SMB) Industry Lead. She is one of many creative, tech-savvy advisors helping Zebra connect SMBs with breakthrough technology solutions that advance the way they work.